War Speak

Armodoxy for Today: War Speak

Warning: The following message may contain content that is graphic and/or disturbing intended for historical purposes.

After the fall of Nagorna Karabakh I shared, in a daily message, the absurdity to the vocabulary we have invented for war. Now that Israel is at war I hear the absurdity reinforces with talk about the killing of women and children being of a different caliber than that of a man. There are rules for humanitarian corridors, as we kindly ask assailants not to bomb areas.

Here is a revisit to the oxymoronic language of war.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposite meanings within a word or in a phrase that is a self-contradiction. For instance, “act naturally,” is an oxymoron because if you’re acting, you’re not natural. Awfully good, is often used to describe something of excellent quality, even though if it’s awful, it certainly can’t be good. There are many oxymorons that are part of our daily conversations. Deafening Silence, Civil war, Old News are all examples of the pairing of opposite meaning words.

You can say that I’m clearly confused, I truly am, over a set of words with the same or similar meaning that are paired together to give the illusion that they are opposites. And although they’ve creeped into our daily conversation, their pairing doesn’t fool me. I’m talking about the words “War crimes.” We talk about people being guilty of war crimes, as if war is not a crime in itself as if you can have a war without committing a crime. Digging a bit deeper we find that there are rules and regulations that govern war. Because we have classified our society as civilized, we have formulated rules for war. A soldier is fair game to be shot while a civilian is not. It sounds crazy, but a young man who dons the uniform of a soldier is no longer presumed to belong to a mother or father who will be devastated at his death.

It’s bizarre and even sickening, when we try to convince ourselves that we are civilized, that our conflicts are resolved by the shooting, maiming, injuring and killing those who oppose us. In Kigali, Rwanda I stood at the genocide museum. There, they had exhibits of all the genocides of the 20th century. I stood as the child of survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century at the scene of the last genocide of the 20th century. With one foot in Armenia and one in Rwanda, I was looking at the spans of 100 years and all the genocides that occurred in between. The Holocaust, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Bosnia were all there along with others that were somehow left off of the 6 o’clock news. It’s sobering when you look at them all and think is this the best we can do to resolve conflicts?

War Crimes! We even have rules that govern executions, that is state approved killings. In the time of Christ, we know that crucifixion was the manner in which criminals were executed. What we may not know is that the cause of death of the crucified was asphyxiation. The crucified person would die a slow death, gasping for air, and with each gasp getting less and less oxygen into his system. It was cruel and unusual. That was the process of execution two millennia ago. We evolved, and now we kill humanely. Did you catch that oxymoron. A quick bullet by a firing squad, electrocution, gas chamber and lethal injection. And then in 2020 we learned of George Floyd, neither tried nor convicted, died of asphyxiation, as he was deprived of oxygen on the streets of Minneapolis.

In the time of Jesus they had rules and regulations governing execution. But it wasn’t about humane methods, rather it was about man-made laws. In the Gospel of St. John we read that after Jesus had given up His spirit on the Cross, (19:31-35) “… Because it was the Preparation Day, the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”

Very much like the modern day expression of war crimes, the Jews had rules and regulations that allowed for death – even cruel death – so long as the rules were adhered to, it was acceptable in their society.

That spear, known as the Holy Lance, is now kept by the Armenian Church. In Armenian it is called the Holy Geghart, and one of our monasteries where it was housed bears the name of that instrument. It is used during the blessing of the Holy Miuron, to stir and bless the Sacred oil. When that Lance entered the breathless body of our Lord Jesus on the Cross it was sanctified in the same manner in which the Cross of Torture became the Cross of Salvation following the Crucifixion.

There is no such thing as war crimes. All wars are crimes. We need to stop fooling ourselves. Conflicts need to be resolved civilly. If Christ transformed the tools of murder into instruments of life, we can do the same in our language and expressions. We can transform war crimes into peace actions.

Let us pray, from the Book of Hours of the Armenian Church, Beneficent and abundantly merciful God, through Your forgiveness and infinite love of humankind be mindful of all that believe in You and have mercy on all. Help us and deliver us from our several perils and trials. Make us worthy to give You thanks and glorify You, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.  

Cover: Artsakh Cross, Custodian for an hour

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